Changing the Landscape: Informing the Future

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Over 1,000 communicators from across the globe gathered at the Marriott Marquis Hotel in San Francisco this week for the IABC World Conference 2015. Gloria Lombardi reviews.

This week I flew from the UK to California. I rented one of the Airbnb apartments in the Bay area, rideshared with Lyft, drank coffees Americano from Starbucks and had lunches at Whole Foods Market. This year’s IABC World Conference 2015 couldn’t have a better theme, ‘Changing the Landscape: Informing the Future’.

More than 1,000 attendees and a variety of speakers gathered from across the globe to explore new ways of communicating, living and working. With over 80 sessions to choose from, not one day went by that I didn’t feel I could make interesting connections and learn something new.

The world began and will end with a story

For IABC APAC Director and Blogger Subhamoy Das, stories are the scaffoldings of business communications, but also of life. “We all live our lives through stories. We make sense of our world and our place in it through stories!”

As American novelist Reynolds Price once said: “A need to tell and hear stories is essential to the species Homo Sapiens – second in necessity apparently after nourishment and before love and shelter.”

After all, plenty of scientific studies have addressed the impact of stories on the brain. For example, the brain releases dopamine into the system when it experiences an emotionally charged event, making it easier to remember and with greater accuracy. A story also activates parts in the brain that allows the listener to turn that story in to their own ideas and experience thanks to a process called neural coupling. Another interesting field of research is around the cortex activity and how well told narratives switch on our senses, motions, and feelings.

But, anatomy aside, why are stories so important to communicators? Das’s answer is fivefold:

“Storytelling is the new differentiator; stories provide simulation – knowledge to act; stories provide inspiration – motivation to act; credible ideas make people believe; emotional ideas make people act.”

If you think that this is just a pile of wood, think again. Das cited a study sourced by One Spot, which indicates that 92% of consumers want brands to make ads that feel like a story. On this premise, Chip Heath & Dan Heath’s ‘Made to Stick‘ can be a useful read, which explores six principles of sticky ideas: simplicity, unexpectedness, concreteness, credibility, emotions and stories.

However, some of today’s most innovative stories are co-created – people tell their own stories, which are more trustworthy than any official company release. In the context of work, having staff who authentically share their narratives becomes a powerful means for employee advocacy.  Read more

The future is now

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This is a recap of Communication Futures event hosted by IABC UK

The future does not yet exist. But we still have to plan for it. That was the theme of last week’s IABC’s excellent seminar on the future of communications hosted and designed by Susan Walker (@suseew) where we tried to answer these questions:

  • Will communicators have to rethink their role?
  • How is the world of work likely to change?
  • Can we use new techniques to understand how people think?
  • Do we need to extend telling important stories across multiple platforms and formats?
  • What developments can we expect from social media and technology?

From the not-so-new magic of transmedia campaigns to operating in a volatile environment, Susan and her A-list speakers led us in a journey towards what our profession can and should be doing to help the organizations we work for.

Who said what…
Lucy Adams (@lucyatfirehouse) is a strong believer in the potential of communication if it is focused for the individual and that HR and communication functions need to work together more closely.

Adrian Wooldridge (@adwooldridge) management editor of the Economist challenged us as communicators with a hard look at the future based on his book “The Great Disruption” which included facts and figures like the research which revealed employee loyalty had halved. In this volatile world, the employee’s first loyalty is to themselves.

Read Silvia Cambie’s interesting reflection on his talk – Communicating in disruptive times.

Hillary Scarlet (@Hilary Scarlett) explained the power of neuroscience and why we react most strongly to threats based on our brains inherited from early man escaping tigers on the savannah.

Steve Spence from Transmedia Storytelling empathised why we need to think of a range of media to tell the story effectively and cannot depend on just one channel.

Silvia Cambie (@silviacambie) and Leslie Crook (@LAC999) gave us their views and predictions of what social media might be in the future. Leslie also shared her social media framework and gave us a preview of John Stepper’s (@johnstepper) working out loud concept. His book is coming out in the fall so keep en eye out!
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4 ways to use data to tell stories

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I’m a contrarian about the “big data” revolution. I fear a world where corporate communication and marketing focuses on data at the exclusion of the human beings those numbers represent.

On the other hand, I’m a strong believer that this proliferation of data analysis, when fused with qualitative insights and human storytelling, can bring stories to life like never before. Increasingly, we are seeing how compelling use of data, combined with strong storytelling, can create memorable narratives in journalism, in entertainment, and in marketing and communications.

Here are four key ways that communication professionals can combine data and storytelling to create a particularly compelling way of understanding the world.

1. Let research and data show the scope and scale behind human stories

Journalists have perfected the craft of making human experiences the face of a story, while then using available data to talk about the broader context of that story.

Today, marketers and corporate communicators have more opportunity than ever before to connect research and data with stories of real people—whether through the content the company is publishing directly or in the stories that they pitch to media outlets. But many organizations have not invested in the resources and skills to conduct robust data analysis, or—on the other end of the spectrum—have become so enamored with data that the numbers aren’t being connected with examples that take us deep into the context of what these trends mean in people’s lives.

Global professional services firm EY (disclosure: a client of mine) has become a master at making this connection. EY has long been known for having its finger on the pulse of entrepreneurship.

And, increasingly, EY has demonstrated that knowledge and connection with entrepreneurs by highlighting entrepreneurs’ individual stories alongside regular quantitative research on global entrepreneurship patterns. The result is a steady, year-round set of stories that demonstrates both the breadth of entrepreneurship trends happening around the globe and the depth of stories of individual entrepreneurs in their particular market.

2. Draw direct connections between data analysis and on-the-ground stories

Too often, even when organizations attempt to combine quantitative insights with case studies, the connection between the two is not that direct.

That’s why stories in which individual anecdotes connect quite directly into larger data sets can be particularly valuable, such as iSeeChange, an initiative of Localore and KVNF Mountain Grown Community Radio in Western Colorado.

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